The fight for the 2011 MCE British Superbike Championship title is beginning to take shape as Shane Byrne, John Hopkins and Tommy Hill all booked their place in the impending shootout with strong results at Brands Hatch.
Their passage through with three races of the 'opening championship phase' remaining means attention turns to the three that could be joining them in the three-round shootout.
Currently, Michael Laverty, Josh Brookes and Ryuichi Kiyonari hold down provisional top six positions, but none are quite safe from those behind, with as many as four other riders still mathematically capable of making it into the showdown.
With the rescheduled Oulton Park round taking place at Cadwell Park, a total of 75 points is up for grabs, leaving even fourth place Laverty – who is 33 points clear of seventh place Rutter – vulnerable. Despite winning last time out at Brands Hatch, Brookes is also in a precarious position, 16 points up on Rutter, after failing to finish the third race of the weekend.
However, most eyes are on reigning champion Kiyonari who, despite two race wins, has struggled for consistent form on the HM Plant Honda. He is just five points ahead of in-form Rutter, who has scored two podiums in the last four races.
Beyond Rutter, Gary Mason is also still in contention, 20 points behind Kiyonari, the MSS Colchester Kawasaki rider enjoying a good second season with the team this year, while Jon Kirkham is just another three points further back. Peter Hickman is also still able to get into the hunt according to the maths, though he is a fairly distant 65 points adrift.
For reference, the 2010 Cadwell Park round saw Hill, Brookes, Kiyonari, Laverty and Rutter all lock out the top five in both races.
2011 MCE British Superbike Championship top ten after eight rounds
1. Shane Byrne (HM Plant Honda) 255 points
2. John Hopkins (Samsung Crescent Suzuki) 231
3. Tommy Hill (Swan Yamaha) 210
4. Michael Laverty (Swan Yamaha) 163
5. Josh Brookes (Relentless Suzuki) 146
6. Ryuichi Kiyonari (HM Plant Honda) 135
7. Michael Rutter (Rapid Bathams Ducati) 130
8. Gary Mason (MSS Colchester Kawasaki) 115
9. Jon Kirkham (Samsung Crescent Suzuki) 112
10. Peter Hickman (Tyco Honda) 98